Astronauts on ISS release the Cygnus spacecraft from the robotic arm, before ground engineers check out systems to move it away from the station.
The first Orbital Sciences Cygnus mission nears its end as the Cygnus cargo spacecraft was removed from its docking port on the International Space Station. According to schedule, Cygnus will activate its engine Wednesday afternoon for a de-orbital burn that will direct the craft to burn up in the atmosphere somewhere far above the Pacific Ocean. Astronauts Parmitano and Nyberg were at the controls of the CanadArm2 robotic manipulator for the undocking.
Cygnus had been docked at the Harmony module since September 29, bringing 1,300 pounds of cargo and supplies to the ISS. After unloading the supplies, astronauts from Expedition 37 filled the empty space with trash and expendables which are no longer needed aboard the station. The Cygnus is not designed for re-entry, unlike the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft which remains the only way to bring cargo safely back to Earth.
This first demonstration mission has been a success, with engineers able to correct a computer glitch prior to docking in September. The next, operational, mission for a Cygnus cargo spacecraft is expected to take place in December as Orbital Sciences begins regular delivery service to the ISS. This mission has definitely helped propel the commercial side of space operations closer to NASA's goal of letting non-government operators handle the delivery of supplies, and eventually astronauts, to the outposts in space.